A camel noseYesterday was a unique day. We, along with Amal, our partner-in-crime, and friend Ranjit headed to a Qatar camel race in al-Shahnniya, some 40 km outside Doha. What we saw and experienced there was quite memorable.

When we first arrived at the racing complex, we were a bit early so we wandered about and ran into some of the camel jockeys. I was shocked to see how young and tiny they were. Mostly they were Sudanese and between maybe 7-10 years old. We talked with them and took some pictures. But then things started getting tense. Some organizers or security for the facility approached us and asked us — quite angrily — not to talk with the jockeys or take pictures of them. They were very tense and kept following us around to make sure we didn’t come near the jockeys.

My analysis is that since Qatar recently banned camel jockeys and is now working on robots to replace the young kids (now being copied in the UAE), officials are feeling uneasy about giving the kids any extensive exposure, especially this being their last season. It might reflect badly on the Gulf state of Qatar since it has now been established that the use of child camel jockeys is really a form of child abuse.

Some jockeys and an outfitterAfter the encounter with the officials, we drove around and found ourselves in a huge camel market. I have to confess, I had never seen so many camels in one place in my life. Jeff and Ranjit, the two shutterbugs of the group, immediately embarked on taking pictures while Amal and myself busied ourselves talking with the vendors and asking them about the camels and how much they cost. Man, camels are expensive!

Neck and neckAmal also rode a camel for the first time in her life! I was shocked to know that she had never done it before. Apparently, there are no camels in Lebanon! Anyway, we headed back to the racetrack and caught the fourth round of the race. It was so surreal. People here follow the race by driving their SUV’s around the outside of the 2-km long track beeping and hollering. We did the same. All packed into Rajnit’s SUV, we chased those racing camels. We did that for the following rounds as well and believe me when I tell you, it was exhilarating. I have never seen anything like it in my life.

There were many young men -– mostly from neighboring gulf countries — following the race that were so passionate about what was going on. I even saw a Qatari guy, who I assumed was an owner of one of the racing camels, talking to his jockey via walkie-talky, coaching him I guess.

I’m so glad we got to see this while we are still here. It was a fascinating experience. I wonder if the passion among the young men that own and watch the races will still be there when the camel jockeys are replaced by robots, which will supposedly be implemented next year. [More pictures coming in a photo album]